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September 26, 2016

Welcome the Robots Among Us

Posted by Sanjay Nambiar (View Profile | View All Posts) at 9:52 AM

Welcome the Robots Among Us

You've heard the saying that it takes money to make money. Nowhere is this maxim truer than among bond trading desks at the world's largest banks. Even when the global economy went south, banks could rely on the lucrative activities of their traders. But now there's talk of robotics coming to Wall Street in what some might think of as quite a radical way: the bond desk.

Goldman Sachs Algorithm is more than just an algorithm. It's the name of an entire program that the bank is using to execute bond trades. What's so interesting about this particular "bond bot" is that bond trading was always said to be the undisputable job of humans because of the nuances involved. Well, this particular program appears to be so good that it can learn from human traders and augment the already lucrative trade they make.

An account of the new program included a remark from one of the bank's executives saying that comparing bots to humans was an apples-to-oranges proposition - in other words, it didn't make much sense. Still, when a definitively human job becomes enhanced by collaborative robots, it's hard to deny that smart machines will touch just about every career in the near future, from medicine to education.

I think you understand where I'm going with this. Breakthroughs in robotics are giving machines the skills they need to work side by side with us - and to learn from each other. When people hear the word "robotics," what invariably comes to mind are those immense welding machines on the assembly lines in automotive plants. True, those spot welders are incredibly accurate and speed up the time it takes to build a car. But in the world of Industry 4.0, we're unbolting those giant welding arms from factory floors, shrinking them in size, and bringing them into our offices. These are today's robots - machines that not only have arms but brains. They can multi-task and solve problems.

Just last week I was reading an interesting essay from the Columbia Business School on hospital emergency room utilization. Between 1992 and 2012, the American Hospital Association found that ER utilization (defined as the number of visits per 1,000 people) grew by about 18 percent in the country. That's an overcrowding trend that the essay says reflects the world's ERs. Hospitals have largely had one solution: to 'go on diversion,' that is the act of telling an incoming ambulance to go to a different hospital. In short, the essay's authors conclude that hospitals could decrease wait time for patients by up to 15 percent. How? Through predictive analytics. The scenario that I see playing out in hospitals around the world goes beyond the robotic surgeon - although that's already becoming a reality. I also see robotics taking control of a block of hospital ERs throughout a region and, by using predictive analytics (and becoming smarter by the day), routing ambulances to the most under-utilized ER. Therefore, robotic surgeons as well as dispatchers will be saving more lives in the near future.

And what about global commerce? Everyone knows that Rolls-Royce Holdings is one of the world's top airline engine manufacturers. The aviation Rolls-Royce is one of the leaders in Advanced Autonomous Waterborne Applications program and has made news by predicting that the technologies used to improve airline operations will soon be used on large ships - specifically massive container ships. The time will soon come when these enormous vessels will be run by onboard robotics - or 'at-sea autonomous operations.' Rolls-Royce is even collaborating with companies working on driverless cars to develop the sea-borne technology. Thanks to advanced communications satellites, robotics can perform all the functions of a human crew and navigate these massive ships across oceans with utmost efficiency.

Indeed, the kind of collaborative and smart robotics I've described might be in the form of something you wouldn't recognize as a robot. But there are some robots which will not only think but move on their own. And they won't all be rigid, metallic entities. What's truly amazing is the 'octobot' - the first robot to be constructed of soft, flexible parts. A recent article in the journal Nature describes the robot, just two centimeters long, as formed of rubber with a brain that is a 'micro-fluidic circuit' that can transfer itself to different parts of the bot when it has to contort into new spaces.

If the future of robotics seems filled with limitless possibilities, then that's because we humans are no longer limiting ourselves as to what a robot can be. From a bank's bond trading desk to a ship's captain and crew, to a gelatinous piece of goo, robots can be anything we want them to be. And far from taking away jobs from humans, robots will transform the global economy such that they will create new, advanced jobs in place of positions they take away. It's time to start planning for the robots among us. Our global marketplace is about to get a lot more interesting, efficient, and exciting.


Interesting and wonderful post.

With the way the author has told this story you would think that every robot will have a handler? That is not what will happen! there will a tech. to trouble shoot for thousands of these Bots. People will have to bend over and kiss there lively hoods good by!

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